Today and Monday, Troy Adams will go to Barber Memorial Cemetery in Rock Hill to talk to the father he never met.
All Adams has ever known are the pictures, the memories of others, and the gravestone of the guy people called “Little Jesse” because he was about 5 feet, 6 inches tall.
A little guy whose heart was huge.
“I’ve spent my whole life living for two people – me and him,” said Adams, 44. “I always wanted to make him proud. I knew I was proud of him.”
Pfc. Jesse Lewis Adams was 19 in 1968, a new husband who enlisted in the Army after graduating from the all-black Emmett Scott High School.
His pregnant wife was a beauty named Kathryn Adams. He had eight brothers and sisters and a father named Henry and a mother named Mildred.
In the summer of 1968, the baby was born. A picture was sent overseas – mail took weeks during wartime, and there were no computers or cellphones – and Jesse named the baby.
Troy – for Troy Donahue, the movie star.
Jesse Adams kept a picture of his newborn son with him, but he never got to meet him in person.
On Nov. 21, 1968, infantryman and paratrooper Jesse Adams was killed by enemy gunfire as he jumped out of a helicopter. He was the first out because he was a leader who did his duty. The assault from the ground was so severe that the helicopter had to leave before others were killed.
Only days later were soldiers able to go back and recover the body of Jesse Lewis Adams.
And just like that, Kathryn Adams was a widow and Troy Adams was a kid with no father.
Other kids had Father’s Day. Troy Adams had a case with a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart – Army medals earned after just weeks in a war that took the life of a young father.
All he had were pictures and what people told him about his father.
His mother, his grandparents, his aunts and uncles – all doted on him.
Still, he had no dad.
“You think about it, your father gets killed in a war, and he never got a chance to really live his life or even see me,” Adams said. “And I never saw him, either.”
Adams never got to play catch with his father, go for a haircut at the barber where men go with sons and show off the pride of being a father of such a great young man. He never was able to show off his good grades to his father after rushing off the school bus.
Kathryn Adams never remarried. She raised her son and went to college, then graduate school, and taught school in Rock Hill and Chester for more than 30 years.
“People then, when it happened, they knew that Jesse never had a chance to see his son,” Kathryn Adams said. “But I didn’t tell people about it. Many knew, though.”
A few years ago, one of the classes in Chester was preparing for a trip to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. The students wanted to know about local people who died for their country.
Other teachers told them to go ask Mrs. Adams.
On Panel 38W, Row 22, of “The Wall” is engraved the name “Jesse Adams,” and right there in front of them that day, teaching the kids about death in wars, was his wife.
Jesse’s father, Henry Adams, died in 1997. On Memorial Day weekend for years, Jesse’s mother, Mildred, would go to York for the annual event that honors those killed in action near the monument at Lakeview Memory Gardens.
The granite there bears the names of all York County troops killed since World War I. The “Gold Star Mothers” – an organization of mothers who have lost a son or daughter to war – are honored, and should be.
The last time Mildred was physically able to go, a few years ago, she sat in a wheelchair in the front and was given a standing ovation.
After Jesse enlisted, two of his brothers, Willie and David Adams, served tours in the Marines and the Army, even after their brother was killed in action.
“Jesse died so young, but we as a family were always so proud of Jesse’s service,” Mildred Adams said. “We still are.”
But there is no honor service for sons who never met a dad who died in a war. All through those years, those Memorial Days, Troy Adams grew into a man he hoped his father would be proud of.
People sometimes would mention to Adams that they knew his father, talk about what a great guy he was. Adams never was able to say the same thing but would always say thanks.
He married Trice Chisolm on his father’s birthday, Sept. 10, 25 years ago as a tribute to the father he never met. Troy and Trice Adams started a family with daughter Takia.
“I guess I was about 4 years old when I asked about the pictures,” said Takia Adams, now 23 and the mother of her own son, Christion. “Then, a few years later, I was probably 8, and my father told me how my grandfather was killed in Vietnam.”
Christion, 4, looks at the pictures and says, “That’s great-granddaddy Jesse. He was in the Army.”
Sometimes, in her dreams and in her prayers, Takia Adams said the grandfather she never met and who her father never met speaks to her about achieving in life and never giving up.
“He is a part of my life,” Takia Adams said. “And I also think about what he gave for his country – his life."
Troy Adams and his wife had a second daughter, Troyonna, who is now 15.
“Everybody says I look the most like my grandfather,” Troyonna said.
And as Memorial Day arrives this year, the family will talk about the great-grandfather, the grandfather and the father none of them ever met.
Troy Adams will go to his father’s graveside and tell him he did his best to live up to him, and still is doing his best.
“My father helped me just by being the person he was in his short life,” Adams said.
Adams will talk to Pfc. Jesse Lewis Adams about his beautiful granddaughters and his hard-charging great-grandson and his wife who loved him and still does.
And then Troy Adams will salute the father he never met, but loves with all his heart anyway.